Heat and Wheat

Jun 13, 2019

Credit hppr.org

Well, folks, one morning I woke up to a completely still morning in Here, Kansas.  No birds, no insects, no wind brushing the curtains through the screened windows, no cars driving by on Kansas Street.  Iola Humboldt stirred beside me.

"Listen," I said to her, "what do you hear?"

"Heat," she said.  "When it's this hot, things are still.  When it stays still, you know it's still hot.'"

"We're not staying still," I said.  "I've got plans.  You don't hear any cars in town because everyone in Here is off driving the roads, enjoying the excitement of wheat harvest."

"In this heat?" asked Iola.

Now, folks, I love that old woman, but we feel different about heat.  We feel different in the heat.  You see, her circulation is better than mine.  From what she tells me, she actually gets hot when the temperature says it's above ninety.  I just get comfortable.  I tell you, there's nobody loves the good, dry heat of the high plains than a thin old Kansas man.  Ten months of the year my bones ache.  I sit shivering on a sunny porch all through Spring.  I have to stomp my feet to keep my toes from going numb.  I turn on my stove burners, hold my hands over them and watch my fingernails turn from blue to pink.

But in July I'm finally warm.  I'm a snake on a hot rock, a lizard in the desert, ripened wheat waiting to turn gold.  "Thank God for the heat," I told Iola.  "Heat and Wheat go together."

"Where I come from, Southeastern Kansas, we didn't have so much wheat.  We had heat, but we had sense enough not to celebrate it."

"In the West, we're used to it," I told her.  "Why Claude Anderson tells us the same joke every year, down at the Co-op, the one about the three Kansas boys, all grown up, but only one of them still living in Kansas, still a farmer, the others off in Colorado and California.  In their old age they decide to be cremated together.  After half a day in the oven, the Californian is burnt to a crisp.  In eight hours there's nothing left of the Coloradan.  But on the third day, when the oven door is opened, the Kansan sits up and stretches.  `Another day of this good heat,' he says, `and we'll harvest the wheat.'"

"It'll take more than three days to burn you up," said Iola.

"Well, it'll take more than today.  Let's go."

We drove around Northwest Kansas, where in three or four days they brought in more than four million bushels of wheat.  Every other vehicle on the road was a grain truck heading to an elevator or railroad siding to sit behind twelve others, waiting to weigh in, dump, and hurry to the field.  Every other field was wheat:  cut, being cut, waiting to be cut.  The combines--green, red, orange, blue--created billows of chaff.  Sometimes baled stubble littered the fields.  Some stubble will be plowed under.  Some was being burned:  five-foot flames licking through the fields.  Folks, it was dusty, and smoky, and the miles seemed to go on forever--miles of wheat, miles of road.  But it was beautiful.  It was the West.  And best of all, it was warm.  "Hot!" Iola says, but she likes seeing me with a smile on my face.